Remember the project of the Office of Management and Budget? It is still here. (

It is designed to encourage more accountability from federal programs by giving each a star rating, from three stars signifying “effective” to no stars “ineffective.”

About 800 federal programs are currently on the website, representing 80% of the federal budget. The OMB hopes to have all federal programs on the site by the end of the year.

Each program has a few bullet points about what’s going well, as well as a few areas of improvement where action plans are briefly discussed.

It’s all very glossy and is easily accessible, but what does it really tell us? A series of soundbytes seems awfully shallow considering these are major programs confronting difficult problems.

The ratings come from the federal Program Assessment Rating Tool, or PART, a 25 question survey. A sample question is: “Does the program demonstrate improved efficiencies or cost effectiveness in achieving program goals each year?”

I was particularly interested in a category called “results not demonstrated.” Results not demonstrated, or RND for short indicates: “a program has not been able to develop acceptable performance goals or collect data to determine whether it is performing.”

What programs fall into this category? After a brief scan I found that the Federal School Lunch program has been classified as RND. How is it that a Truman-era program hasn’t demonstrated results? had these three points to make:

* The program has made progress in improving the nutritional content of meals by reducing the proportion of calories from fat and saturated fat. Between 1993 and 1999 the proportion of calories from fat in the lunches was reduced from 39% to 34%.
* While periodic evaluations show progress towards improved meals, the program lacks short-term measures that can demonstrate progress on an annual basis.
* The program does not have a reliable measure of the level of erroneous payments it makes. The number of children approved for free meals each year exceeds estimates of the number of children who should be eligible.

So, Federal School Lunch gets RND because fat content in meals is going down, it has periodic, but not annual reviews, and more kids are eating lunch than the government expected. But never fear, the following steps are being taken:

* Conducting nationally representative study updating information on the nutrient content of meals.
* Developing and testing new annual performance measures that link to the long-term goals of improving the nutrient content of meals and reducing erroneous payments.
* Working to produce a reliable estimate of erroneous payments by 2007.

These are all fine and good, but my question is: are poor kids getting fed? Are they better able to concentrate because they actually have a decent meal? Are enough kids taking advantage and not forgoing the program due to social stigma? I’m glad the government is focusing on waste, fraud, and abuse, but I wonder if the right things are being focused on.

I’m interested to see how informs the national policy debate as it matures. For now, let’s give it an RND.

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